Once one of Canada’s leading industries, the pulp and paper sector has been feeling the brunt of changing worldviews and fluctuating consumer attitudes for the past several years. With the technology sector growing, demand for paper-oriented communication mainstays such as newsprint, telephone directories, copying paper, books, magazine and glossy print have gravely diminished. The result has been an unprecedented closure of pulp and paper mills across the country, and the dissolution of a one-time lucrative industry.
Nearly eight months ago, an Ottawa Citizen series took a closer look at the dying pulp and paper industry along the Ottawa river – an area that effectively built and sustained the Ottawa-Gatineau economy for decades.
“Driven by the imperatives of globalized economics and digital technology, Ottawa’s pulp-and paper heritage has been reduced to a remnant,” the paper wrote in September. “Hammered by the Internet’s growing grip on personal communications, the rich Canadian dollar and intense competition, the forestry industry continues to slash operations in the hopes of finding a smaller, profitable core.”
Fuelled by a large market demand and a failing pulp-and-paper industry, some innovative businesses are capitalizing on this opportunity by converting old northern bleached hardwood kraft pulp mills into specialized dissolving pulp mills.
Last year, Vancouver-based specialty paper producer Fortress Paper Ltd. purchased a pulp mill in Thurso, Quebec and began the process of converting into a dissolving pulp facility. Since then, other mills have followed suit.
Domtar has sold its pulp mill in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to Paper Excellence. Paper Excellence, is a unit of Indonesia’s Sinar Mas. Paper Excellence plans on investing upwards of $200 million to begin churning out dissolving pulp.
Finding new life in these mills isn’t only reinvigorating slumping sectors, it’s also creating new, much-needed job opportunities in towns that have felt the impact of a dying industry.
“At its height, the mill complex [in Prince Albert employed 700 people directly, with hundreds more working in forestry spin-off jobs,” the CBC reported last month. “However, amid poor market conditions, it closed in 2006. The paper-machine operation was dismantled and the pulp mill was mothballed.”
Re-opening the mill with a new vision will help “with the creation of hundreds of full-time manufacturing jobs and thousands of hours of construction jobs,” said Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada Western regional vice-president Jim Britton.
The re-opened mill in Thurso, Quebec under the direction of Fortress Paper saw nearly 300 people return to work.